It’s that time of year again. Time for political science, philosophy and women’s studies undergraduate majors from across the country to delay real world responsibility for three more years as they enroll in law school. As young people embark on their careers as lawyers, I want to impart some valuable advice I wish someone had shared with me.
Now, more than ever, you will hear a lot about the importance of “networking.” In any other walk of life, networking means getting to know folks while participating in the things your community does. But that’s not what they mean in law school.
When the people at your law school utter the magical word “networking,” what they really mean is attending an endless series of awkward social mixers where law students and lawyers sequester themselves along opposite walls like awkward boys and girls at the 5th-grade dance.
What they mean is a series of forced, uncomfortable lunches where you attempt to make conversation with lawyers who, years ago, forgot how normal people talk. People who’ve lived their entire adult lives by the tenth of the hour. What they mean is a series of otherwise fruitless social interactions where you pretend to give a hoot about things that no sane person cares about and accept that no one gives two shits about you unless you have a single-digit class rank (and even then, it’s dicey).
So, to prepare for these gut-wrenching, mind-numbing “networking” events, here are a few exercises that can steel you for the boredom, humiliation, and awkwardness:
1Practice talking to people who exhibit obvious disinterest when speaking with you. I recommend going to Radioshack and chatting with employees. Because they are some of the few who still work on commission, they are obliged to listen to you chatter. But be sure to let them know in the first moments of the conversation that you have absolutely no intention of buying anything. Then proceed to talk to them for 60 minutes. This exercise in futility will prepare for you for the process of lunching with people who have no job to offer and couldn’t give a damn about you.
2Learn to host an interview. Forget the Emmanuel’s and fast-track summer classes. If you really want to sharpen your skills, take a community college course on journalism, but only attend classes related to interviewing subjects for a story. Learn to ask a person a million questions without ever being asked one back. Once you’re able to sustain 90 minutes of chitchat purely by generating questions aimed at self-important a-holes who talk without ever feeling stressed or hurt that they know nothing about you, you’re ready to network.
3Learn to withstand unnecessary pauses. Call friends and family in Europe on a land-line. This is the best way to condition yourself to waiting 3-4 seconds for a response to even the most mundane statements or questions in a conversation. This skill will prove particularly important if you hope to work in BigLaw, since 90% of Big Firm partners respond EXACTLY like they’re making a long-distance phone call to Asia. In 1985.
4Tell everyone you know to start ignoring your voicemails and emails. Normal people are hurt when their e-mails go unanswered and their calls un-returned. Get used to it. You need to start developing interpersonal callouses. Lawyers are assholes. You’re a nobody. Worse yet, you’re a nobody who wants a job. They will not write you back. And if they do, it’ll be a 1-3 word response that comes nowhere close to responding. No one will call you back. Best to harden your heart now.
5Volunteer in a hospital treating patients with Tourette’s. There’s a good chance that if you’re lucky enough to get a job, you’ll be surrounded by verbally abusive people. Best to get used to the swearing and nonsensical screaming now. At the very least, the lack of a conventional social moray will disabuse you of any expectation you might have that people will be polite. Lawyers are not polite. The vast majority lack even the most common of social graces.
6Talk to random strangers everywhere you go. Practice until you’ve tricked yourself into not noticing the “Why in the f@&k are you talking to me?” look. Rest assured, lawyers will get that look even when they’re at a networking event where the entire purpose is for them to talk to law students. Think this is satire? It’s not.
7Read books on decay rates of South American foliage. Why? Because if you expose yourself to enough brutally uninteresting material, there’s a small chance you might actually find idle chitchat about mergers and acquisitions interesting.
These seven tips will help things go much more smoothly for you. And I’m only half kidding. Remember: People don’t hate lawyers because of what lawyers do. They hate us because of who and how many of us there are.